Harare -The South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) - widely touted as Africa’s richest league and certainly the region’s most rewarding championship - restarted after the new coronavirus-compelled shutdown, but the resources required to keep players and officials safe mean less funded leagues have struggled to get going.
The South African PSL is in the final season of a 13-year partnership with a banking giant and the league is making a spectacle of the final lap with massive promotional programmes and a “thank you” series commemorating the partnership.
The partnership was worth approximately R140 million (approximately US$8,3 million) this season, with the winners taking R10 million in prize money.
So far, the league has created much excitement with pre-lockdown runaway log leaders Kaizer Chiefs now pegged back to level points with defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns.
The level of investment required to run the league in the midst of a pandemic has highlighted the financial differences between regional leagues.
The Zimbabwean PSL, for example, which has traditionally run from March to November, was due to begin when COVID-19 struck.
This week the Zimbabwe PSL took a decision to change the season to align with the continental calendar, running from August to May, beginning in 2021.
Globally, some major leagues agreed that the technical challenges of running a league under COVID-19 protocols was too much work and declared the teams sitting atop the table the league champions.
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) ended up running knockout tournaments for the last eight of their top club competitions the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League.
In the United States, Major League Soccer ran a tournament titled MLS is Back in a resort location with the teams playing a series of playoff matches to decide the champions.
Both UEFA and the MLS enjoy heavy corporate backing.
The Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) set up a COVID-19 Relief Plan that included releasing funds to member associations to help them cope with lost revenue resulting from the absence of matches.
The fund will reach US$1,5 billion to be released in three allocations with the first allocation of US$152 million already given to national football associations.
The soccer governing body has released US$500,000 to each member FA, with a similar additional amount to be released in July 2021.
To support women’s football, a half-million grant has been allocated to each member FA.
But even with this kind of money being thrown around, the challenges of resuming league football were clear.
“The resumption of training and matches will not be easy to manage, from the point of view of health security,” the Confederation of African Football (CAF) noted.
“A great challenge awaits the African federations, their professional leagues and their Clubs, often unaccustomed to scrupulously respecting standards and procedures of this type.
“Unfortunately, basic standards and absolutely necessary procedures are beyond the reach of many clubs that we know.
“Apart from a few very rare exceptions, which confirm the rule, the clubs of the African elite do not have really organized medical departments. The COVID-19 Pandemic will demonstrate this if necessary.
“Standards may even ensue, even basic, within the reach of African clubs, if they are serious and motivated, which could become regulations that will have to be drafted and adopted legally.
“The players in the game must be protected and insured, and therefore reassured. The responsibilities of associations, leagues, clubs, must be recognised and assumed beforehand,” CAF said.
Their worries were well/placed.
At the time of writing, only two leagues in Southern Africa had resumed.
The Zambian Super League, bankrolled by South African telecoms giant MTN resumed and ran a crash programme that saw Nkana FC taking their 13th league title ahead of Forest Rangers.
The Zambian league has gained sponsorship over the last decade and is now a destination for players from across the continent.
Nkana had three Kenyan internationals: Harun Shakava, Duke Abuya and Duncan Otieno on their books.
A steady stream of Zimbabwean players has crossed the border north into Zamba, including 2019 Soccer Star of the Year Joel Ngodzo.
The common denominator in the leagues that have resumed is the level of sponsorship.
Tanzania has become a popular destination for African talent because of the money that is being into football in that country.
Burundi became the first Africa nation to resume football when they restarted the league in May. Tanzania restarted their league, suspended during March, when they kicked off in June.
Morocco followed, with Tunisia (August) and Egypt (August), hot on their heels. South Africa followed in mid-August.
Here is a breakdown of the action African leagues have taken.
(Information from cafonline.com)
Mauritius became the first African country to end its football season due to the pandemic after an initial indefinite postponement on March 19.
The Football Association, through general secretary Didier Gnanapragassa communicated to the clubs the decision to wind down the season throughout the country over uncertainties as to when the pandemic will be over. Date of decision: 6 April 2020
The Football Kenya Federation decided to end football across all its seven tiers of the men’s game as well as the two tiers of the Women Leagues. Under a Force Majeure clause in its rules, the champions of each league will be decided by the standings at mid-season.
Gor Mahia were crowned the Premier League champions for a 19th time with Chemelil Sugar and Sony Sugar relegated while Nairobi City Stars are champions of the second tier and promoted to the Premier League alongside Bidco United.
The two tiers of the women’s leagues were cancelled as they had only played one round of matches into the new season. Date of decision: 30 April 2020
After a meeting with the top tier clubs, the Angolan Football Federation decided to cancel the season with five rounds of matches left to play.
Petro de Luanda were leading the top tier with 54 points with Primero de Agosto second.
A decision was reached that the two clubs will represent Angola in the Total CAF Champions League. Date of decision: 30 April 2020
The President of the Guinean Professional Football League (LGFP) General Mathurin Bangoura announced that the top two tiers of Guinean football would not be able to be completed because of the pandemic.
With the uncertainty on when the pandemic will be over, Bangoura said a unanimous decision was reached to cancel the season with no champions, promotion or relegation.
The league had reached the halfway point with Horoya leading the standings with 29 points, four ahead of second placed Wakirya. Date of Decision: 30 April 2020
The Emergency Committee of the Burkina Faso Football Federation made the decision to cancel the top tier season with six rounds of matches left to play.
There will be no champions or relegation in the top tier, but with the second tier already completed, the top two teams will be promoted which means the next season of the top tier league will have 18 teams
At the same time, Rahimo FC has been selected to represent Burkina Faso in the Total CAF Champions League while Salitas FC will play in the CAF Confederation Cup. Date of decision: 4 May 2020
The Executive Committee of the Ethiopia Football Federation, in consultation with government organs and the league administrators announced the cancellation of all tiers of football in the Eastern Africa Country with no champions declared, promotion or relegation as well.
Consequently, EFF has announced that Ethiopia will not have a representative at next season’s continental club championship. Date of decision: 5 May 2020
The Congo Football Federation named AS Otoho as champions of the 2019-20 season after cancelling all football due to the coronavirus.
Otoho who were leading the standings with a 14-point gap with six matches remaining before the season was halted will play in the Total CAF Champions League while second placed Diables Noirs will play in the CAF Confederation Cup. Date of decision: 5 May 2020
The Liberia Football Association announced the cancellation of all its football leagues with no champions, relegation or promotion after a meeting of the Executive Committee.
The Liberia FA was due to consult on a play-off between the top four to determine representatives at next season’s CAF Competitions. Date of decision: 5 May 2020
Cameroon voided its football season due to the pandemic. PWD Bamenda were named champions of the Elite One League and will represent Cameroon in the 2020-21 Total CAF Champions League.
Yaounde’s Louves Minproff Club were named champions of the Cameroon Women’s Football Division One League. Date of decision: 12 May 2020
The Executive Committee of the Democratic Republic of Congo Football Federation called an end to all its football leagues due to the sweeping effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
TP Mazembe who led the standings by the time the league was suspended were named champions and will represent DR Congo in the 2020-21 Total CAF Champions League alongside AS Vita who were second, five points behind.
AS Maniema Union and DC Motema Pembe who were third and fourth respectively in the standings will play in the Total CAF Confederation Cup. Date of decision: 14 May 2020
Citing a force majeureclause in its competition, the Federation of Ugandan Football Associations (FUFA) resolved to end the season due to COVID-19.
Vipers led the standings with 54 points, four ahead of second placed Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) after 25 rounds of matches.
Thus, Vipers will represent Uganda in next season’s Total CAF Champions League while KCCA will play in the Total CAF Confederation Cup.
The Women’s Premier League was cancelled. Date of decision: 20 May 2020
South Sudan ended its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SSFA also cancelled all football activities in the country while there will be no promotion or relegation across all leagues and as thus South Sudan will not have a team representing it at the 2020-21 Total CAF Champions League.
Alrabita Juba FC have earned themselves a ticket to the CAF Confederations Cup having won the Cup tournament which had been completed before football was called off due to the virus. Date of decision: May 20, 2020
Army side APR were crowned Rwanda Premier League champions for a record 18th time after the Rwandese Football federation (FERWAFA) called an end to the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision was reached upon by the FERWAFA Executive Committee in accordance to Article 33 of the FERWAFA Statutes and Article 28 of the FERWAFA Internal rules and regulations.
APR led the standings with 57 points. Date of Decision: 22 May 2020
Togo announced an end to its national championships due to the COVID-19 situation. The Togolese Football Federation formally announced the end to the 2019-20 season, with football having been suspended over the last two months.
The Kozah Sports Association (ASKO) were named champions of the First Division as they led the standings with 39 points, six ahead of second placed Unisport when football was halted with 20 rounds of matches played.
There were six match days remaining before the season ended. Date of decision: 26 May 2020
Jwaneng Galaxy FC were declared champions after the Botswana Football Association (BFA) made the decision to annul the season due to the challenges posed by COVID-19.
Galaxy led the standings with 41 points, one ahead of second placed Township Rollers and third placed Orapa United with 10 rounds of matches left.
They will thus represent Botswana at next season’s Total CAF Champions League. Date of Decision: 14 June 2020